The Widows of Malabar Hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill

Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's rights. Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Oma...

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Title:The Widows of Malabar Hill
Author:Sujata Massey
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Widows of Malabar Hill Reviews

  • Cathy Cole

    Having been a fan of Sujata Massey's award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series, I was thrilled to hear about this first Perveen Mistry mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India. There are two interwoven timelines in The Widows of Malabar Hill. One is present-day Bombay in 1921 which shows us Perveen working hard to become an integral part of her father's law firm. The second timeline takes us back to 1916 so we can learn what happened to Perveen to make her the woman she is five years later.

    The story it

    Having been a fan of Sujata Massey's award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series, I was thrilled to hear about this first Perveen Mistry mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India. There are two interwoven timelines in The Widows of Malabar Hill. One is present-day Bombay in 1921 which shows us Perveen working hard to become an integral part of her father's law firm. The second timeline takes us back to 1916 so we can learn what happened to Perveen to make her the woman she is five years later.

    The story itself is a version of the locked room mystery. The widows live in purdah on Sea View Street. They stay in the women's section of the house, they do not leave their home, and they do not speak to any man who is not part of the immediate household. When a man dies inside a house where few people are admitted, it's going to take knowledge of the interior workings of the place to learn the truth. As a woman, Perveen is perfect for the role of investigator. She's also perfect in another way: she's become a feminist who's passionate about the rights of women and children. She shows us how such restricted lives are led and the intricate maneuverings that must be done in order to conduct an investigation. (Some policemen are much less willing to conduct themselves according to the beliefs of those who have become a part of their investigation.)

    The mystery is a strong one because readers must acquaint themselves with this unfamiliar world in order to piece together what happened. And what can I say about the setting? Massey pulled me right into this world, and I was almost on sensory overload. The old ways versus the new. Bombay's rapid growth into a vibrant major city. The various political, religious, and social factions that chafed against each other on a daily basis. And one woman, with the support of her parents, who's strong enough to stand up for what's right.

    I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!

  • Sarah

    “As the only female lawyer in Bombay, you hold a power that nobody else has,” a British government official tells Perveen Mistry in this first of a refreshingly original mystery series – and he’s right. It’s 1921, and Perveen is a solicitor in her father’s law firm. Even though she can’t appear in court, her position and gender mean she’s the only individual with the means to look into a potential instance of deception and fraud.

    A Muslim mill-owner's three widows, who live in purdah with their c

    “As the only female lawyer in Bombay, you hold a power that nobody else has,” a British government official tells Perveen Mistry in this first of a refreshingly original mystery series – and he’s right. It’s 1921, and Perveen is a solicitor in her father’s law firm. Even though she can’t appear in court, her position and gender mean she’s the only individual with the means to look into a potential instance of deception and fraud.

    A Muslim mill-owner's three widows, who live in purdah with their children in his mansion on Malabar Hill, appear to have given away their rightful dower and inheritance. Perveen suspects they didn’t realize the implications of their signature, and when she visits the three individually, it appears that she’s correct. When she discovers a body on her return visit to the Farid family, she suspects a member of the household did it – but who?

    There’s considerably more to the plot than a traditional murder mystery, though. Though only 23, Perveen has a professional, mature demeanor that helps her gain the widows’ confidence, and there’s a reason behind it: she’s been through a lot in her short life. Massey depicts her backstory in chapters set back in 1916. This allows for two stories running in parallel: who committed the crime at Malabar Hill, and what trauma did Perveen endure? While I was struck by the abrupt jump back in time initially, I came to feel that this increased the suspense.

    The setting for this story is absolutely key, and from the Mistry residence on the city’s outskirts to the prestigious Taj Mahal Hotel along the harborfront, the layout of historical Bombay is described in clear, thorough fashion (the maps at the beginning are helpful but not absolutely necessary). Perveen and her family are Parsis – descendants of immigrants from Iran – and followers of Zoroastrianism, and the novel explores the religion’s traditional and more orthodox beliefs. Bombay contains a multiplicity of cultures, classes, and languages, and I came to admire Perveen’s ability to steer a fine path through it all.

    What comes through most strongly in this entertaining work, though, is the status of women, and how much Perveen had to accomplish to get where she is.

    also makes you think about how critical the support of family and others can be for women in desperation; where would the novel's characters have been without it?

    I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

    First reviewed at

    , based on an ARC received at BookExpo last year.

  • Lynn

    Sujata Massey was a new author for me. I enjoyed The Widows of Malabar Hill very much. The location is Bombay, India in 1921 to flashbacks to Calcutta 1916-1917. Perveen Mistry is the first female lawyer in India. She was educated in Oxford but can not represent clients in court. She works in her father law office.

    Her father is representing the estate of Omar Farid who is a wealthy Muslim mill owner. He has left three widows who are living in purdah which is total seclusion. They do not leave th

    Sujata Massey was a new author for me. I enjoyed The Widows of Malabar Hill very much. The location is Bombay, India in 1921 to flashbacks to Calcutta 1916-1917. Perveen Mistry is the first female lawyer in India. She was educated in Oxford but can not represent clients in court. She works in her father law office.

    Her father is representing the estate of Omar Farid who is a wealthy Muslim mill owner. He has left three widows who are living in purdah which is total seclusion. They do not leave their living quarters and do not speak to men.

    A male household guardian who lives apart from the widows and their children but in the same house has ask them to sign over their inheritance to a boys school charity. Perveen because she is female can meet with the widows and see if they understand what the sign over to the charity means to them in the future. It needs their agreement in legal form. Perveen is representing her father's law firm. There are surprises with the widows, tensions and eventually a murder. It is somewhat like a closed off manor house mystery. Who inside the house committed the murder and are the families in danger.

    The book was rich in local sights, sounds, foods and customs. There were surprises along the way for the reader. Perveen was a strong women's right advocate in an era that did not recognize women's rights at all. One element that I thought enriched the book too was her intelligent and loving parents who stood by her through everything. This will be one of my best reads for 2018.

  • Kathy

    Several years ago, when I read The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey, I discovered an India of beauty, historical importance, depth, tragedy, redemption, and diversity. That book, set over a period of seventeen years, 1930 to 1947 mostly in Calcutta, stunned me with its impact on my reading life, as India became a source of interest and intrigue to me. It’s quite difficult for me to choose just one favorite book or even ten favorite books, but The Sleeping Dictionary is forever in my top ten.

    Several years ago, when I read The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey, I discovered an India of beauty, historical importance, depth, tragedy, redemption, and diversity. That book, set over a period of seventeen years, 1930 to 1947 mostly in Calcutta, stunned me with its impact on my reading life, as India became a source of interest and intrigue to me. It’s quite difficult for me to choose just one favorite book or even ten favorite books, but The Sleeping Dictionary is forever in my top ten. So, when I learned that Sujata had a new book coming out set in India, I was excited and anticipated another spectacular read. Expectations were met entirely. The Widows of Malabar Hill is another journey into India and its culture and people, this time in 1921 in Bombay. The author doesn't rest on her laurels of Calcutta. She takes us a thousand miles across India to a whole new area of intrigue. Both novels have a strong, independent female lead character, and that's not a small accomplishment in the first half of 20th century India. The struggle for women to have any control over their lives in this period of Indian history was a task of gargantuan proportions, and it is a timely entry as our country is dealing with a resurgence of women fighting to retain the progress they’ve historically made, a progress to equality. The Widows of Malabar Hill mirrors the white supremacy battle we are fighting in this country in its British white supremacy over the peoples of India, people of color.

    For Perveen Mistry, a twenty-three old Parsi woman who is the first female lawyer in Bombay, life is indeed challenging. She partners with her father in their family law firm, but the courts do not allow her to represent clients before a judge. Perveen deals with the legal paperwork side of the business. It is in this capacity that she confronts the disposition of a client's will. The challenge of this particular task is that the beneficiaries are three widows who live sequestered (in purdah) from the rest of the world and who have no direct contact with men, other than what they had with their husband.

    The first sticking point in Perveen’s attempt to do her duty is that the man appointed as household agent (person handling their money and affairs daily) for the widows isn't communicating with Perveen, except to send a letter indicating the women wish to give their inheritances to charity, in part to a charity he is establishing. Perveen insists that she must talk to each woman to ensure that their true wishes are being represented by this man, and so she visits their residence on Malabar Hill, a rather exclusive neighborhood, to do just that. The visit reveals some interesting information to and from the widows, and the decision to forfeit their inheritances is put on hold. The decision isn’t the only thing that changes. In the time that Perveen leaves the house after the interviews and returns to retrieve her forgotten briefcase, a murder occurs. With the women and their children secluded on one side of the residence, and the household agent and gate keeper on the other side, who has committed this crime? Someone gaining access from outside, or someone on the inside gaining access to the whole house? The answer lies deep in a quagmire of secrets and deceptions.

    The essence of this novel is two-fold. There is the murder mystery in which only Perveen has acccess to gaining all sides of information, and there is Perveen's story of her struggle as a woman in India, not just as a woman solicitor. The background story of the years leading up to Perveen's position in 1921 is a dramatic one. The author has chosen to tell this story in separate chapters labeled 1916 and 1917. The rest of the book, the majority of it, is designated by chapter titles and the date of 1921 with the month of that year. This arrangement works quite well, and we learn just how Perveen got to be the woman of strength and determination she is in pursuing the truth for her women clients in 1921. It also gives the reader insight into Perveen’s family and her best friend from Oxford, Alice, who deals with her own set of demands and struggles. I suspect that Alice’s life will be explored further in future books, too.

    Sujata Massey is a master at bringing both story and knowledge to readers. Learning the difference between Parsis/Parsee and Iranis and the Zoroastrian religion, difference in customs between these and Muslims, and how the British operated in Bombay during this time of British rule over India. And then, there is the description of Bombay and how it was established and built up. All this fascinating information is woven seamlessly into the narrative, making the reader better informed as well as a captivated reader.

    The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first in a new historical mystery series by Sujata Massey, so we will get to see more of Perveen Mistry and her fight for justice for her clients, her people, and herself.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from the author.

  • KOMET

    A few minutes ago (it's 11:20 AM EST as I write this), I had the satisfaction of finishing reading "THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL." It's centered around India's first woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry, who had received her legal training at Oxford. The time is February 1921 and she has returned to her home in Bombay, where she has a job working in her father's law firm.

    Perveen has been given the responsibility of executing the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim who owned a fabric mill and had 3 wives

    A few minutes ago (it's 11:20 AM EST as I write this), I had the satisfaction of finishing reading "THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL." It's centered around India's first woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry, who had received her legal training at Oxford. The time is February 1921 and she has returned to her home in Bombay, where she has a job working in her father's law firm.

    Perveen has been given the responsibility of executing the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim who owned a fabric mill and had 3 wives. In the immediate aftermath of Farid's death, the 3 widows are living in strict purdah (a type of seclusion in which the widows never leave the women's quarters nor see and speak with any man outside of the residence) at the Farid residence on Malabar Hill. Whilst carefully reading the documents, Perveen notices that the widows have signed off their inheritance to a charity. What strikes Perveen as odd is that one of the widows' signature is a 'X', which is a clear indication that the widow who affixed the 'X' probably was unable to read the document. This leads Perveen to wonder how the 3 widows will be able to live and take care of themselves. She begins to suspect that maybe they may be taken advantage of by the legal guardian entrusted by Mr. Farid to handle their financial affairs. Perveen has the welfare and best interests of her clients, the 3 widows, in mind.

    Perveen goes on to carry out an investigation. She makes an arrangement with the widows' legal guardian, Feisal Mukri, to come to the residence to visit the widows and to speak with each of them separately. In the process of doing so, tensions are stirred in the Farid residence and a murder takes place there that makes a straightforward matter of executing a family will into something much more perilous and uncertain. There is also something out of Perveen's recent past in Calcutta that intrudes into her present life.

    "THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL" is a novel whose prose resonates on every page. It has a lot of twists and turns that will engage the reader's attention throughout. Sujata Massey is a writer who not only knows how to craft and tell a richly compelling novel. She'll leave the reader wanting more. And after almost 14 years of reading Massey's work, I'm already eager to begin reading the second novel in the Perveen Mistry Series.

  • Tammy

    This is a very well done old-fashioned historical novel and my first experience with Massey. Perveen is the only female practicing lawyer in 1921 Bombay. She is unable to argue cases in court due to the strictures of the time and instead works as a solicitor for her father’s practice. At its heart, this is a murder mystery and a good one. There is a bit of a dual timeline but it doesn’t occur every other chapter so the novel flows more smoothly than other books that have used this device.

    Pervee

    This is a very well done old-fashioned historical novel and my first experience with Massey. Perveen is the only female practicing lawyer in 1921 Bombay. She is unable to argue cases in court due to the strictures of the time and instead works as a solicitor for her father’s practice. At its heart, this is a murder mystery and a good one. There is a bit of a dual timeline but it doesn’t occur every other chapter so the novel flows more smoothly than other books that have used this device.

    Perveen’s experiences in 1916 and 1917 inform the woman that she is in 1921 and you can’t help but like her. She’s intelligent, feisty and thoughtful. Her unique status as a female lawyer allows her to represent and interact directly with three widows practicing purdah. I didn’t know much about the practice of seclusion and found this to be fascinating. Actually, I didn’t know much about Indian culture in general other than that the religious and language differences among the population are many and I came away from this book knowing more than I did. By reading this book, I attended a Parsi wedding and learned a little about food preparation. I never expected to like this book as much as I did.

  • Taryn Pierson

    Perveen Mistry is the first practicing female lawyer in Bombay in the early 1920s. In assisting her father with the administration of an estate, she notices something odd about a letter they received from the widows of the decedent: the widows claim they all want to donate their inheritances to the family charity. The custodian of the estate is pushy and demands the funds be made available for charitable purposes, but Perveen wants to meet with the widows in person to discuss their rights to the

    Perveen Mistry is the first practicing female lawyer in Bombay in the early 1920s. In assisting her father with the administration of an estate, she notices something odd about a letter they received from the widows of the decedent: the widows claim they all want to donate their inheritances to the family charity. The custodian of the estate is pushy and demands the funds be made available for charitable purposes, but Perveen wants to meet with the widows in person to discuss their rights to their husband’s estate. She’s uniquely suited to the task because the widows are in seclusion due to their religious beliefs and cannot be in the presence of men. When someone turns up dead at the widows’ home, it becomes clear that Perveen is dealing with more than just an estate dispute.

    I’ll admit I got a little impatient with this one because the publisher’s blurb didn’t prepare me for the amount of time we would spend in Perveen’s past. We know from the beginning that she is single and working as a lawyer in Bombay, so the lengthy chapters detailing her courtship and subsequent, predictably miserable marriage dragged. If those events had been summarized in a single chapter, or incorporated in much shorter segments, this would have been a more fun book to read.

  • Bookworm

    3.5 stars

    I wavered between 3 and 4 stars throughout the story. I enjoyed that it took place in Bombay, India, in the early part of the 20th century. It was fascinating to learn about Indian culture and laws during this period of time. The protagonist, Perveen, was also a likeable character who represented women's rights and the suffragette movement that was taking place around the world. I was captivated during the chapters that focused on Perveen when she was 19 years old.

    Unfortunately I found

    3.5 stars

    I wavered between 3 and 4 stars throughout the story. I enjoyed that it took place in Bombay, India, in the early part of the 20th century. It was fascinating to learn about Indian culture and laws during this period of time. The protagonist, Perveen, was also a likeable character who represented women's rights and the suffragette movement that was taking place around the world. I was captivated during the chapters that focused on Perveen when she was 19 years old.

    Unfortunately I found the later timeline a bit staler. It involved Perveen, at 23 years old, working as the first female lawyer in Bombay at her father's law practice. This was also the murder mystery part. As the story began, I found myself utterly confused by all of the characters and the use of Parsi words. I usually enjoy it when authors include bits of the language of the country they are writing about, but in this instance, had a hard time understanding what was being said. As a result, it took me awhile to get into the story and I had to force myself to push on. Once the second timeline kicked in, I was then able to actually engage.

    The mystery part will probably appeal to those who enjoy detective crime novels. For me, that genre is just meh....so it wasn't my cup of tea. I was intrigued to know how it turned out and found the ending to be average. In all, an okay literary mystery with some interesting historical details about Indian culture in Bombay.

  • Charlsa

    I can see how many people would enjoy this series. It fell a bit flat for me. It read like a Nancy Drew mystery to me. I've upgraded my rating from two to three stars. I started thinking about it more, and I realized that because I listened to this book, I was influenced by the narrator's voice for the characters. As I said, it felt like a Nancy Drew mystery to me. I think that was due to the narrator. If I had read it, I think that the story of the widows and Perveen's own story of oppression w

    I can see how many people would enjoy this series. It fell a bit flat for me. It read like a Nancy Drew mystery to me. I've upgraded my rating from two to three stars. I started thinking about it more, and I realized that because I listened to this book, I was influenced by the narrator's voice for the characters. As I said, it felt like a Nancy Drew mystery to me. I think that was due to the narrator. If I had read it, I think that the story of the widows and Perveen's own story of oppression would have melded better. So....I would definitely read it, not listen to it.

  • Kari Ann Sweeney

    I loved the setting and time period- 1920's Bombay. The main character was a strong, smart, complicated female and the first female lawyer to boot. The mystery kept me guessing as well. Perhaps what I appreciated most was the education I received about Indian culture and laws during this time period.

    Was this a knock-my-socks off book? No. But it sure was an escape! And it would make for great conversation.

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